The Rise and Fall of Kings:

Many years of life are not required to realize that we live in a sin-sickened world.  Eventually, we all fall ill, watch loved-ones die, read of tragic events in the news, and witness various calamities and atrocities.  With our hearts and minds focused on the wrong perspective, life events can allow great fear to settle into our hearts.  But focused rightly, we can find comfort and hope from within the darkness that plagues even our days.

Would you please take just a couple minutes to read First Kings chapter 1?  It has such invaluable treasures waiting to be unearthed.

Summarizing the chapter briefly, King David is about to die, and two half-brothers are vying for his throne: Adonijah and Solomon.  We first see Adonijah setting himself up, convincing a small handful of men of nobility to support his cause.  He throws himself a celebration as a way of making the announcement to the kingdom of his new kingly reign.

But, in another room, a mother and a prophet of God (who is close to King David), remind the king that her son, Solomon, is the rightful heir.  After their short, but pointed, conversation with him King David officially declares Solomon as the heir to his throne.

Points of encouragement:

1) One man (Adonijah) had only the support of a small few in his attempts to establish his reign.  Adonijah's "reign" was not established in any official capacity, but by his own meager attempts.

2) The other man (Solomon) had his reign firmly established by true authority - he had the word of the king and the blessing of God, the King of kings.

3) Nations rise and fall according to God's will and command, for He rules and reigns sovereign over all that He made.  No king, prince, president, or any other authority has EVER risen to power without the express authority of God; nor will it ever happen today or in the future.  No amount of self-proclamation will ever seat a ruler on an earthly "throne"; only those who have been established by God (see Romans 13) will enjoy the brief privilege.

4) As we watch evil leaders rise and fall throughout history, it may be discouraging to some to think God authorizes evil empires.  Make no mistake, history has revealed that God PERMITS the righteous and the wicked to temporarily rule -- both yesterday and today.  But take heart, no empire rises a moment sooner than God allows it to rise.  It shows up on the scene when God, and God alone, says it's time.  Likewise, no kingdom will EVER last a fraction of a second longer than God permits.  Not. One. Second!  Kings, presidents, and princes fall when the Creator says.

5) Given comments 1 through 4, be encouraged that none of what we are witnessing or experiencing today takes God by surprise.  We may not understand the ins-and-outs of the unfolding of events, nor may we have our deepest questions answered.  GOD IS SOVEREIGN OVER ALL!


"Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy", by DintyW. Moore (book review):

"Dear Mister Essay Writer Guy" is a bit of a spoof, a comedic attempt at answering (in relatively short form) various questions about essay writing.  While I appreciate the author's sense of humor, I didn't find this one worth the time I put into it.  I had hoped (since I enjoy reading and writing) that it would be something that could inspire creative writing techniques.  But it completely failed to inspire.  It might serve well as a light-hearted bathroom reader, rather than an inspirational guide to creative writing.

I give this book just 2 stars out of 5.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not required to provide a positive review of it.


"We Cannot Be Silent", by Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr (book review):

We Cannot Be Silent” is Dr. R. Albert Mohler Jr’s 183-page call to evangelicals to stand for biblical morality, using not only Christian apologetics as his method of operation, but also well-crafter, logical arguments.  While Mohler’s focus is American in nature – its history, culture, and court decisions – the principles contained have broad, global application.

When the US Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage this past summer 2015, many Americans were upset – even disgusted – by the Justices’ ruling.  One of the points Dr. Mohler drew out was that “heterosexuals did a very good job of undermining marriage before the culture forces began advocating for the normalization of same-sex relationships and the legalization of same-sex marriage” (p.31). 

Mohler suggests this undermining of morality was accomplished via the advent of birth control & contraception, divorce, and cohabitation (sex outside of marriage).  Birth control, because it allowed people to engage in sex outside of marriage without much fear of unwanted pregnancies; no-fault divorce, because it has allowed couples (and society) to undermine what a marriage commitment truly is; and sex outside of marriage, because it allows people to “try it before you buy it” mentality.

The most insightful, inspiring, and encouraging chapter, in my opinion, was the ninth: “The Compassion of Truth: The Church and the Challenge of The Sexual Revolution”, beginning on p.133.  I love America and the freedoms, opportunities, and advances it provides.  Yet, as Dr. Mohler explains, one pitfall with cultures that become more industrialized and technologically advanced, “theism retreats and the public space becomes increasingly devoid of theological conviction” (p.133). 

As we watch events unfold and morality change before our eyes, Dr. Mohler says, “the new morality of a post-Christian culture frees us from our delusional confidence that the people around us…are somehow Christians – or will at least act like Christians”.  Continuing, Mohler writes, “We have fooled ourselves into believing that our neighbors are fellow believers, even when they have…no active sign of Christian discipleship” (p.135).

In essence, the modern-day sexual revolution has been the result of several years of moral decline in American culture, not just one summer day in 2015.  This is a punch in the gut because I am part of that culture of moral decline.

I’ve heard Dr. Mohler speak in person on two separate occasions, and have listened to him via podcast and radio on several other occasions.  He is a well-spoken and learned man, and he will likely receive a significant amount of back-lash from the public for this book.  He writes as well as he speaks, and I highly recommend this book for your reading bookshelf.

I give “We Cannot Be Silent” 5 stars out of 5.

I received this book free of charge from BookLook Bloggers (Thomas Nelson Publishers).  All opinions are mine, and I was not forced to provide a positive review.

End Note: This review was rejected on Amazon.com customer reviews.  Apparently, writing anything with the words "same-sex" is cause for rejection.  Well done, Amazon. So it's posted at Barnes & Noble instead.


Ways to Determine How/Where You're Gifted to Serve:

The Bible speaks in numerous locations about “spiritual gifts”.  The primary passages are Romans 12:6-8, 1Corinthians 12:4-11; 12:28, where gifts such as prophecy, wisdom, teaching, healing, etc. are listed.  But how is a believer to know what gift(s) s/he may have?  This is something that plagued my mind  as a youngster, and probably was only settled in my mind when I was in my 30’s.  

I’d like to provide a short sampling of ways to determine your giftedness, because they’re what I’ve experienced and witnessed to be true.

1)      What are you passionate about?”  What drives you?  What consumes your thoughts and ministerial pursuits?

When I was a youngster, I was extremely passionate about playing drums.  I started learning when I was in 5th grade, and the desire grew after my parents bought me my first set of drums.  I practiced constantly – not because I was told to, but because rhythm was ingrained in me.  I’d tap even when I wasn’t sitting in front of a single drum, and music filled my head.

I was barely in high school when I began drumming in the youth group and adult services.  I drummed and drummed until my hands blistered.  I grew up in a Pentecostal denomination, so I was accustomed to lots of church-going, and after a while I was drumming for Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night services.

All that drumming drove me to improve, and I did improve.  I was able to pick up on music structure very young, so that when groups did not have a drummer visited the church, I could easily improvise and fill the void.  I was truly passionate drums then, and the passion has only intensified for music today, but now it’s in the realm of singing and playing guitar.

2)      Is it easy for you to learn the particulars within the area of your passion?

As already mentioned, I found it easy to learn musical structure and how to apply drumming techniques to worship.  About 10 years ago, I purchased an inexpensive acoustic guitar to start learning.  After some frustration, I put it away for many years.  I even tried to sell it in a garage sale.  But thanks be to God I was not able to sell it.  So it sat in a closet until just under two years ago.  It was Thanksgiving 2013, and my mom asked me to bring the guitar with me to dinner so I could play music with my sister, who is a phenomenal pianist.  I reluctantly agreed, even though I knew only about 5 basic chords.

Thanksgiving Day 2013 ignited a fire within me to learn to play the guitar.  I practiced every possible moment I could, and within the year I was just confident enough to begin playing in church.  I wasn’t by any means excellent, but I was decent…and I had the passion and desire to learn and grow.

Today, I play the guitar and drums (depending on the need) in the worship team at the church my family and I attend.  My passion for drumming has faded, but has been replaced by singing and playing guitar.  I truly love leading people into worship of our great God. 

Here’s the point, learning the guitar has been fun and relatively quick for me.  While I am not without mistakes, I have learned exponentially over these two years.  If er have a gift that God intends to be used to edify the body of Christ, I’m a firm believer God will increase our abilities if we put our heart and effort into it.  When I began learning 2 years ago, I dedicated my learning to God for His glory.  Even today, I often pray before my practice time that God would bless my efforts.

3)      Are you fulfilled how/where you’re serving?

Sometimes, we hear pastors say we ought to pursue our giftedness.  Yet, many of those same pastors only intend that to mean, “We need someone to clean toilets.  Will you do that in service to the Lord, please?”  I, like you, have no problem helping when/where needed, but I also really want to serve in a fulfilling capacity. 

We’ll know we’re serving within the area of our giftedness when we “finish” a time of service and say, “Ahhh, that was nice…and I long for my next opportunity to do it again.” When we serve where we’re gifted you’ll not only enjoy what we’re doing, but we’ll also be energized by preparing to do it.  I not only enjoy worship gatherings, but I also have fun learning new songs, improving my playing/singing techniques.

If teaching is one’s gift, maybe he can begin using his giftedness by teaching “Sunday School”, a small group, or actively engaging/participating with those who already teach those subjects, and hopefully his gifts will be supported by those in the position to help him exercise them in greater capacities.

My wife is a gifted financial and personal organizer.  She enjoys organizing people to accomplish goals, and she’s good at it.  People thank her for what she does because it’s a relief to those who are not gifted in areas of administration.  She enjoys observing church finances to determine where improvements can be made.  I don’t think financially…and she doesn’t think musically.  This is the beauty in that God gifts us all differently, and it’s crucial that we all use our abilities where we’re gifted.

4)      Do others affirm your impact/influence through your service?

When we dive in to serve others in the body of Christ, we grow more and more comfortable with serving, and we inevitably improve with time.  If we’re passionate and are putting our all into ministry, people will take notice.  Hopefully, they will see a positive impact we make in their lives and the life of the church.

I’ve experienced this myself, and have witnessed it in others.  When we’re making a difference, people will notice, and they’ll likely speak up.  After all, maybe that person’s gift is in encouragement, and they’re exercising that gift.  Maybe the encouragement we receive will come in the form of gentle critique, or maybe it may come in the form of thankfulness and praise.  Take note of these compliments, critiques, and praises, because we’ll need to remind ourselves of them when we go through a “funk”.

5)      Does your local church body allow you – or facilitate – your ministry gift(s)?

I think this aspect of spiritual gifting is one of the most crucial.  By this point, we’ve pretty much nailed down where we’re gifted, and now we simply want to exercise them.  But it’s not enough for the Spirit-filled follower of Christ to simply exercise gifts from the fringes.  No, someone exercising giftedness is fulfilled by serving wholeheartedly.

For instance, what if one’s giftedness is in dance or art?  Chances are good she is probably not going to be permitted to exercise interpretive dance in “traditional” congregations.  That’s not a bad thing, it’s simply not that body’s personality.  So, maybe it means the artist/dancer should consider pursuing her gifts in a congregation where she can exercise them.

What if our giftedness is in teaching adults, but church leaders only facilitates serving in the children’s ministries?  Because we want to serve where needed, we serve.  But, unless given a passion for children, serving in children’s ministries when we’re gifted to teach and engage with adults will likely leave us feeling unfulfilled, and quite frankly, burdened.  After all, serving in children or youth ministries should NEVER be treated as a stepping stone where we get our feet wet before moving “up” to teaching adults.  We shouldn’t treat children that way, nor should we treat ministers that way. 


"NKJV Foundation Study Bible" (book review):

I enjoy reviewing study bibles…God knows there are a plethora of them available in these United States these days.  I enjoy it because I know people are always in search of just the right bible…not too heavy, not too light; not too full, not too boring; this-version, that-version.  And if I can be of any help to searchers, then I’ve done my job.

I’ve found one study Bible that I truly enjoy, and I use/read it daily.  But I just can’t seem to find the right size Bible cover for it, as it’s just a little odd in size.  But this NKJV Foundation Study Bible is one of those Bibles that is just about right in many regards, to be quite honest. 

First, I truly like the style of the New King James.  I think it reads well in modern vernacular, but carries with it some of the crafty word structures of the King James.  But that is a taste thing that you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Second, I like the size of this Foundation Study Bible.  It measures  approximately 8-3/4” tall, 5-3/4” wide, and 1-7/8” thick.  It is relatively light, and would be easy to carry to school or work without requiring too my space or effort.

Next, I truly appreciate the minimal commentary at the bottoms of the pages.  The insights (I think) are designed to encourage readers to dig and think more for themselves, rather than be spoon-fed.  There are ample cross-references in the center columns to launch into word or passage studies, and the footnote commentaries don’t seem to distract too much from Bible reading itself.

Finally, the maps and short concordance at the back of the Bible are fairly standard modus operandi for study Bibles.  The book introductions are a little short, but if the idea is simply to whet the appetite and provide brief introduction to readers (rather than in-depth essays) then they suffice rather well.

The NKJV Foundation Study Bible prices around $18 at Amazon.com.  For the money, this Bible would make a great addition to your personal library, or even as a gift.  I give it 4 stars out of 5.

Disclaimer: I received this book free of charge from BookLookBloggers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and I was not forced to provide a positive review of it.  


"My God and My All: The Life of St. Francis of Assisi", by Elizabeth Goudge (book review)

Elizabeth Goudge was a true wordsmith.  She wrote with such artistic style, and her thoughts were so elegantly strung together.  However, after reading this book, I think St. Francis must have been one of the THE most boring historical figures...EVER!  So it's a good thing Goudge was such a fantastic writer.

That said, there's always something to learn from any book, whether I like the subject or the author's style.  Here are 5 thoughts that I took away from it.

1) If Christ has given me so much, and has loved me tremendously -- especially when I didn't deserve it -- how can I give so cheaply, and love my fellow man so little?  As a follower of Jesus, I need to be much more spontaneously generous and more loving to the unlovable than I am.  How far would I go, and to what depths would I reach to help my fellow man in need.

2) Is Christ all to me that he should be?  I he my all, or simply a portion?  Does Christ have all of me, or just a segment?  How radically different would my life be if Christ was my All in All?

3) St. Francis chose to live a life of self-imposed poverty, attempting to identify with those around him who had little or nothing.  If a person's self-imposed poverty and piety do not incline him to reach out to those who are involuntarily need and hungry, then what value is that man's religion to anyone?  If one's religion only serves to edify herself, then is her faith any good at all?

4) When I consider pan-handlers on city streets or freeway exit ramps, I often ignore their requests for hand-outs because I think to myself, "They will only misuse it for drugs or alcohol anyway, so why should I enable them?"  I may be wrong for thinking those thoughts, but they are, nevertheless, real thoughts.  As I read this book, chapter 11 made me think of my reactions to these people: Do I give to the poor only when I think they deserve it?  Must they merit my generosity in some way, or must they reach a certain level of need before I give?  Is it not my obligation to love and serve even when -- especially when -- others least deserve it?  After all, is that when Christ died for me, when I least deserved it?

5) These final thoughts pertain to my opinion of St. Francis of Assisi. While he longed to be filled with love and peace for all people, his repeated comments (as described throughout the book) that he was a vile, undeserving worm (for example) seemed to rob him of the joy to be found in the Lord.  I wonder if Francis ever crossed over in his own mind from his status of being a sinner (which would qualify him as vile and undeserving) to being a saint of God (one who has been forgiven by God and is truly blessed of God).  While I suspect he knew his sins were forgiven in Christ, I wonder if he ever knew the JOY of sins forgiven.  I pray that I may never seek such "piety" that I forget that Jesus Christ has accomplished all that is necessary for my salvation, and that I do not need to prove my worth to God.

So this makes me wonder if Francis truly understood the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  On p.285 is written that Francis thought he was an infirm because God was punishing him for being a wretched sinner.  But the gospel reveals the sun rises and falls on the righteous and the wicked; the rain falls on the just and the unjust.  The gospel reveals that those who are forgiven are truly blessed, not cursed by God.  Sickness and death are the result of sin in our world, and ought not be considered as punishment by God.  The psalmist wrote, "Blessed is the one whose sins are overcome! (Ps. 32:1).

RATING: I give this book just 3 stars because (a) I took lessons away from it, and (b) Goudge is a wonderful writer.  Otherwise, it was not really all that interesting, to say the least.  She had a difficult subject for a biography, and she did her best.  I doubt I will recommend this book to anyone's reading list.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Handlebar.  I was not required to provide a positive review; all opinions are mine.


"NIV Zondervan Study Bible", by General Editor D.A. Carson (book review)

First, I’m not here to debate the merits of particular Bible translations, or which “version” one should read.   A dear friend of mine who is a minister once told me, “The best version you can read is the one you will read.”  Some might debate that, but I believer there’s a lot of truth in that statement.  If you don’t prefer the NIV, then don’t get it.  Instead, purchase a Bible version that you WILL read and study.

Timelines: The beginning of this Bible contains detailed and colorful timelines, from patriarchs to kings.  These are useful when attempting to get a clear picture of history at a glance. (I'd love to provide some color photos, but I'd probably be violating copyright laws.  Sorry.)

Introductions: Each section (Pentateuch, Historical, Wisdom, etc.) and the individual books begin with introductory articles.  But it’s not only the articles that are beneficial, but color prints of ancient art, maps, and/or photographs are contained within the articles.  These make the reading much more interesting.

Color Photos: Do you remember when you were a kid and the first thing you looked for in a book was its number of pictures?  If it had a lot, you checked it out of the library; if not, you left it there for someone else?  Well, this Bible has a ton of pictures…and they’re not the boring black-and-white pictures either.  These are quality prints on Bible paper.  Well done!

Overview Articles: Prior to the concordance in the back of the Bible are a number of articles, such as “The Story of the Bible: How the Good News about Jesus is Central” (by Timothy Keller), “A Biblical-Theological Overview of the Bible” (by D. A. Carson), “Priest” (by Dana. M. Harris), and “The Kingdom of God” (by T.D. Alexander) to name just a few.  It is good to read articles by trusted Bible teachers.

Concordance: The concordance is quite solid…157 total pages.  I’ve had study Bibles whose concordances were like child’s play.  This one is rather decent, though.

Maps: As with any study Bible, the back is chock full of colorful, detailed maps…about 16 pages worth.

Dimensions: This Bible is massive.  Its thickness measures just about 2 ½”, but its height and width are standard for a Bible.  I estimate that this one weighs right around 5 or 6 pounds.  So, if it’s a Bible you’re looking to carry around, prepare for a good workout!

The Pros & Cons of Study Bibles:  We are blessed to live in a time when the digital age and printing press join forces to provide Bible students with some of the best study tools on the planet.  We are also blessed with a plethora of good Bible teachers whose role it is to equip the Church in understanding God through His word.

However, with all the commentary present in study Bibles today, study Bibles can be burdensomely HUGE!  That is the case with this one.  Additionally, there seems to be a lot of commentary per page in relation to actual scripture in this Study Bible.  I understand much needs to be explained, but sometimes too much is too much. 

The danger with this is that people might be tempted to read the Bible with a bottom-up approach, rather than a top-down approach.  What I mean is this: people may be drawn to the commentaries first and the scriptures second, rather than the other way around. 

RATING: I give the NIV Zondervan Study Bible 4 stars out of 5.  I think this one is a good tool. Simply use it wisely.  

DISCLAIMER: I received this Study Bible free of charge from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  I was not coerced to provide a positive review.  Instead, all opinions are mine.